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Office 365 and SaaS Management Platforms (SMPs)

Office 365 and SaaS Management Platforms (SMPs)
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A 2018 market guide from Gartner I recently read had me quite curious due to the use of a new acronym in the Office 365 bolt-on marketplace.  They call these solutions SaaS Management Platforms (SMPs).  Ultimately these are management solutions for cloud services (e.g. Office 365, G Suite, etc.) that focus on six functional categories: administration, IT role-based access control, policy management, license management, workflow automation and reporting.

Just from an Office 365 perspective it’s easy to see why a third-party solution might help to fill some of the management gaps left in the native Admin Console.  Often to perform tasks like on-boarding/off-boarding (or provisioning and deprovisioning) we find ourselves moving from one console to another manually, or using PowerShell scripts that have to be built and tested (and tweaked and retested).  We find some role options (about 20 customized roles to choose from) but they’re global in nature and lack the granular role-based access control (RBAC) approach larger organizations need.  There is a bit of frustration with license management, with most organizations over-sized instead of right-sized so they’re wasting money.  There is also a need for better reporting since Office 365 is more of a bevy of solutions stitched together and so often you have to resort to PowerShell to pull the date you want.  So, there is a valid need for help in these areas.

In looking at the current marketplace there are a good number of solutions out there who are hitting those pain points with regard to Office 365.  They offer a single pane of glass administration, which certainly beats jumping from one console to another.  They offer more granular RBAC options for location/department/etc. assignment of least privilege permissions.  They pull reporting on licenses used/unused, features and applications used/unused and can help an organization determine if perhaps they need to right-size (that is, they might have E3 or E5 licenses that might be capable of going down a level and saving the company money).  They have canned reports that already have the back-end PowerShell written and ready to go.  All of these, and more, are what SMPs are doing to assist with Office 365 management.

One of the things IT admins often complain about with SaaS environments is the extent of responsibility that remains on their shoulders. And with that responsibility comes blame should there be a problem, be it a mismanagement or configuration issue, a security breach and so on.  According to the guide from Gartner “Nearly all successful attacks on cloud services are the result of customer misconfiguration, mismanagement, and mistakes”.  Compliance regulations like GDPR, PCI, and HIPPA make for another argument in favor of an SMP solution to assist with improved monitoring, reporting and analytics.

SMPs slip in nicely with other management solutions that focus on other aspects of an end-user’s life. We use tools to manage our clients (some built-in to Windows like Group Policy, others we may purchase through third-parties) and our mobile devices (aka mobile device management) but we expand the concept to now include SaaS administration (i.e. policy management, automation, etc.)  Where SMPs start becoming even more exciting is when they combine with other existing management solutions through API’s and such to combine features into next-gen IT operations workflows.

Microsoft is working hard to ensure they provide the services we need for 21st century communication, collaboration and productivity.  In the process there is still room for third-party solutions that can fill the gaps in management and it will be interesting to see how this category of SMP providers continues to grow and evolve going forward.

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Co-founder of and Microsoft Office 365 MVP, InfoWorld columnist (Enterprise Windows), and Mimecast consultant.

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